By Evan Symon, California Globe
According to multiple state agencies on Tuesday, water usage in California shot up by 19% compared to 2020, despite pleas from state officials and state reservoirs hitting historic lows this year.
Since the drought set in the last few years, multiple voluntary water conservation measures have been almost entirely ignored. Last year, when Governor Gavin Newsom set a target of an overall 15% reduction of water usage, it only went down by 1.8% by July. Throughout the year didn’t fare better, as it only went down 3.7%.
Local efforts have also been ignored. In Northern California, restrictions have barely put a dent into usage, despite Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta reservoirs are only half their normal water levels.
In Southern California, which only last year had been hailed as a model in how to keep water stocks flowing despite a drought, mandatory water usage cuts are becoming more common. This includes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) drastically reducing water usage through ways such as designating the number of lawn watering days from 3 to 2 a week. For many farmers, it means another year of cutting back on crop output and will likely lead to higher food prices due to the country’s reliance on Californian agriculture, especially during the winter.
Despite all of this, water usage has now been ticking upwards again, with a dry spring, a projected hot summer, and snowpack currently being at only 27% of the average threatening to only keep usage high. Water experts, such a the board members of the California State Water Resources Control Board, have noted that usage is up, in part, due to March 2022 being 3.6 degrees warmer than average and March 2020 1.3 degrees cooler than average, as well as 2020 being far more wetter statewide. This made the jump in usage far greater than it should have been.
“It’s almost like apples and oranges because we did have quite a bit more precipitation in that March versus the one that we experienced here,” explained board member Sean Maguire on Tuesday.
A big two year jump in water usage
However, the increasing water usage has spurred other experts to push for more drastic cuts, with suggestions once seeming ridiculous only a few years ago now possibly being treated seriously.
“Well, massive landscaping cuts are needed,” explained Lyle Oliver, a water control expert who has helped villages and cities on three continents survive droughts, to the Globe on Tuesday. “That means going back to the previous Californian drought symbol of brown lawns, or letting the grass go brown or just having dirt. As soon as the drought ended last time, everyone went back, and look where it led. People need to rethink having lawns and have them have natural plants or plants that use low amounts of water instead. And not have sprinkler systems.”
“We also need to look at maybe not having water parks or not having pools. Is that drastic? Yes, very much so. But if we’re looking at saving mass amounts of water locally, these are ways.”
“However, we have to look beyond urban usage too. We need to look at agriculture and see where water is wasted there. And for the state, environmental water releases need to be drastically cut. By a lot. They are causing a lot of freshwater to go out to the ocean. This is definitely the worst offender, and the state needs to reel this in. Right now they are favoring fish over people and that isn’t right.”
“And finally you need new water sources. Desalination is the big one and people in the state are fools for not utilizing it more and building more. Piping in water from across the country could also help, and there are many other more localized things that can be done to stretch out water resources.”
It is currently unknown if water usage in April also has gone up compared to two years ago.